Undocumented Students

published on 14 September 2023


Colleges are open to undocumented students and some scholarships are available. Albeit, the process of planning for, applying to, and paying for college is sometimes intricate and involved – answers are not always simple and financial resources are limited.

The information in this space is general in nature and serves to:

  • guide you through the college planning process;
  • introduce you to options for life after high school;
  • connect you to trusted resources; and
  • provide answers to some of your most pressing questions.


Over the course of the last six decades, a number of key court rulings, statutes, legislative actions, and proposals have made it possible for undocumented students to gain greater access to colleges and universities.

Know your rights and responsibilities.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Under President Obama's June 15, 2012 Executive Mandate, some individuals qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA, for short) program, part of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services department. Under DACA, children who came to the country under the age of 16 and prior to 2007 and meet other guidelines listed on the website below may requested consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would then be eligible for work authorization. Deferred Action is a discretionary determination to defer removal action of an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion. Deferred Action does not provide an individual with lawful status. Deferred Action is not a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency, nor does it allow the individual to seek federal or state college financial aid.

The total application fee is $464 ($380 fee plus an $85 fee for biometric services), payable by a money order to USCIS. The application forms (I-821D; I-765; i-765WS) and additional information can be found on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

In-State Tuition

Several states have passed laws allowing student who attend and graduate from in-state high schools to qualify for in-state tuition rates at their public colleges, regardless of immigration status.

In 2003, Illinois signed into law an in-state tuition bill (Public Act 93-0007) also referred to as House Bill 60. This law permits certain undocumented students who have attended and graduate from high school in Illinois to pay the same tuition rate as other classmates at public institutions.

Bill HB 60 – Higher Education In-State Tuition (Public Act 093-0007)

The HB60 Higher Education In-State Tuition is primarily intended to help the children of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents and have worked hard at school with the hope of going to college.

Who is eligible to benefit from HB60 Higher Education In-State Tuition?

In order to qualify for HB60 In-State Tuition rates (at public Illinois colleges or universities) under HB 60, undocumented student must meet the following requirements:

  • student has resided in Illinois with his/her parent or guardian while attending public or private high school;
  • student has graduated from an Illinois public or private high school or received a GED from Illinois;
  • student has attended an Illinois high school for at least three (3) years;
  • student has registered to enter a university no earlier than fall 2003 semester; and
  • student provides the university with an affidavit stating he/she will file an application to become a permanent resident of the U.S. once he/she becomes eligible to do so

This HB60 law also provides the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who meet these requirements but no longer live in the state the ability to qualify for the same tuition rate.

About the "Affidavit": What Is it, and Is It Required?

The HB 60 In-State Tuition law requires undocumented students to sign an affidavit promising to legalize his or her immigration status as soon as eligible. The affidavits will be exchanged between the university or college and you (the student).

Affidavit (n). af•fi•da•vit [ àffi dáyvit ] A written version of a sworn statement: a written declaration made on oath before somebody authorized to administer oaths (such as a Notary Public)

Do not refrain from applying to public universities due to a concern that your information will be reported to a third party or governmental agency, such as Homeland Security Department. Bound by FERPA regulations, college staff members take necessary precautions to maintain confidentiality, and ensure that records are not shared, nor reported. Data collected from you are for the use of college admission and/or financial aid professionals only.

Illinois DREAM Act

The Illinois DREAM Act (Public Act 097-0233), which borrows its name from a similar piece of federal legislation, is a state law that supports the college aspiration of children of immigrants in Illinois. The Act was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn on August 1, 2011. Before heading to Governor Quinn’s desk for approval, the bill was passed in the state Senate and in the state House.

Illinois is the first state to approve a state-specific DREAM Act.
» Description
» Answers to Frequently Ask Questions

The Illinois DREAM Act was designed to make four major provisions in support of children of immigrants in Illinois:

  • Appoint an Illinois DREAM Commission
    To carry out the responsibilities outlined under the Illinois DREAM Act, a nine-member Commission will be appointed by the Governor with Senate consent. Members of the Commission will represent the geographic and ethnic diversity of the State, including students, college and university administrators and faculty, and other individuals committed to advancing the educational opportunities of the children of immigrants.
  • Establish an Illinois DREAM Fund
    The Fund will be funded entirely from private contributions to provide financial assistance to support the postsecondary aspiration of children of immigrants in Illinois. To receive a scholarship under the Illinois DREAM Fund, students will have to meet the same requirements that currently apply to receiving an HB60 In-State Tuition at public college and universities in Illinois.
  • Amend Section 529 Prepaid and Savings Plans
    The option to invest in the state’s 529 prepaid tuition (College Illinois) and 529 college savings (Bright Start and Bright Directions) programs will become available to the children of immigrants, including undocumented students, who graduate from Illinois high schools. A individualized taxpayer identification number (ITIN) or social security number (SSN) are required.
  • Require Professional Development for School Personnel
    To address the need for guidance on matters of postsecondary options, the Act requires high school counselors and college admission and financial aid officers to be trained on educational opportunities for immigrant youth.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records at educational institutions — including high schools, colleges and universities. As a result, high schools and universities cannot release a student’s information, including the immigration status, except under very specific circumstances, such as a court order. For more information about what can be released about students, refer to the U.S. Department of Education website.

Any information that an undocumented student shares with a college or university is protected by FERPA.

Tax Reporting – Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)

Paying income taxes is the law for anyone who earns wages in the United States, including undocumented immigrants.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues an individualized taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN). ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have a U.S. tax filing or reporting requirement.

Important Note: ITINs are used for tax purposes only and are not intended to serve any other purpose. Do not use it in place of a social security number (SSN) on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

What is an ITIN?A tax processing number, issued by the Internal Revenue Service, for certain resident and nonresident aliens, their spouses, and their dependents. It's a nine-digit number beginning with the number “9” and is formatted like a SSN (example: 9XX-7X-XXXX).Can an ITIN be used on the FAFSA?NO!!!! Absolutely not!What is the purpose of an ITIN?ITINs are used for tax purposes only and are not intended to serve any other purpose.Who can get an ITIN?Those not eligible for Social Security Numbers. It is only available to individuals who are required to have a taxpayer identification number for tax purposes.How do I apply for an ITIN?Use the latest revision of Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to apply available on the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96287,00.htmlWhere do I find out more?The IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96287,00.html

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Get comfortable asking for help. Planning for college is not something you do by yourself— it’s really a team effort. But it is up to you to put together your team. That means talking to the adults in your life who can help—from your parent, guardian or other family member to your teacher, school counselor, college coach, and mentors at local community organizations.

Meet Your School Counselor and College Coach

Seek guidance and get answers to your questions. School counselor and your college and career coach are two of your best resources when planning for college. Counselors and college coaches have information about admission tests, college preparation and your education and career options. They are aware of colleges that admit and grant institutional aid to undocumented students.

So, what are you waiting for?

Take the first step to college by making an appointment with your school counselor or college coach to discuss your Individual Learning Plan. Use our Counselor & College Coach Directory to find the counselors and college coaches at your school.

To help you get the conversation started, consider these questions:

  • Do you have information to help me start exploring my interests?
  • What are the required and recommended courses for high school graduation and for college preparation?
  • Do you have college handbooks or other guides that I can browse or borrow?
  • What activities can I do at home and over the summer to get ready for college?
  • What colleges admit undocumented students and what kind of grades do they require for admission?
  • Where have other undocumented students from this school attended college?
  • How can I get my hands on some cash for college?

Involve Your Parents, Guardians and Other Family Members

Find family support. Even if you are the first in your family to go to college, your parents may have real experience and knowledge that can help you make the connection to college. Invite them to a college planning workshop. Check your school calendar for workshops at your school as well as the event calendar here on Choose Your Future for district wide workshops.

Network with Peers and Friends Who Have Gone Through the Process

Connect with family, friends and neighbors who have been to college and ask them how they got there. As you take inventory of their tips and anecdotes, keep in mind that the information they share is sometimes based on perception and is not always factual. Also keep in mind that state and federal legislation is subject to change over time – what applied a few years ago, may not be true today.

For the most accurate information about getting ready for college, talk to your school counselor and your college and career coach.

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Take the right classes.

To get into college, start by taking the right classes in high school. Find out what classes you need to meet entrance requirements and sign up for them now. Lock in requirements. You may not need them to finish high school, but most colleges require three to four years of math, English, science and social studies. Plus, most want at least two years of the same foreign language.

Take high school courses that count towards your college degree.

Take the ACT and SAT seriously.


There’s a lot to consider when choosing a college. If you’re just starting out, or if you’re already swamped with brochures and applications, the best way to decide which one is right for you is to determine your priorities. To access contact information for colleges in Illinois, consider these trusted sources of information:

  • Map of Illinois Colleges (College Zone)
    Find Illinois colleges in your region of choice. Results will include Illinois college addresses, phone numbers, descriptions, current costs of education, and links to each college’s website.
  • What's Next Illinois
    If you want to know more about the specific colleges you are interested in, you can locate a wealth of information through What's Next Illinois for Compare Schools, College Matching Assistant, School Finder and Distance Search.
  • Illinois Postsecondary Handbook
    The Handbook is designed to provide general admission and financial aid information about Illinois postsecondary institutions. The information is subject to change by the institution at any time. Please check with each college for more exact costs.

University Policies and Procedures

There are three main areas on the path to college where undocumented students may have special concerns or face obstacles:

  • Admission: Undocumented students can attend colleges and universities in Illinois and throughout the United States. Despite some popular assumptions, there is no federal or Illinois law that prohibits the admission of undocumented immigrants to U.S. colleges and universities, public or private. Policies on admitting undocumented students vary by institution and students must meet college admission requirements as is similarly required of students that are legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
  • Tuition Cost: Illinois is one of 12 states that have passed laws that permit undocumented students to pay In-State Tuition rates under certain conditions.
  • Ways to Pay for College: Undocumented students cannot legally receive any federally funded student financial aid, including loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. However, keep in mind that private colleges and universities set their own financial aid policies. Some are willing to provide institutional scholarships to undocumented students.

When looking for a college, start by investigating the admission policies at each college and university. That is, find answers to this question:

  • What steps must an undocumented student take to earn admission?

Additional questions to help you get the conversation in motion:

  • Is there a point-person at the college that can answer my questions?
  • Will the college consider undocumented students for institutional, private, or merit aid?
  • Does the college offer any special scholarships for international students? If yes, can undocumented students apply for these scholarships?

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When choosing a major (i.e. program of study), keep in mind that for undocumented students it may prove difficult to obtain certifications and state licenses that are required for some professions, such as teaching and nursing programs. This difficulty is due to requirements such as background checks, required social security numbers, and state examinations. Additionally, some majors may require field work and/or employment as part of their curriculum.

Some colleges offer hundreds of majors. Some students have known what they want to do since kindergarten. For others, it takes a little time. If you’re reading this and are wondering: But how do you pick just one area of specialization? Well, that's the hard part.

Some basic questions to consider when choosing a major:

  • Does the major require a background check?
  • Does the major lead to certification or state licensure which may be unavailable to an undocumented student?

If you want to find majors and programs of study that you might be interested in pursuing, you can locate a wealth of information at Explore Programs and Majors on What's Next Illinois.


Who Is Eligible?

Generally, to be eligible for financial assistance from any federal or state sponsored student aid program, you must be either a U.S. citizen or have an immigration status that demonstrates that you are residing in the U.S. for other than a temporary purpose.

The following chart gives the financial aid eligibility status for U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, visa holders, and undocumented students.

  • A dependent student is a resident of Illinois if the parent, who is required by the instructions to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), physically resides within the State of Illinois and Illinois is his or her true, fixed and permanent home.
  • An independent student is a resident of Illinois if the applicant physically resides within the State of Illinois (at the time of application), and has so resided for a period of 12 continuous, full months immediately prior to the start of the academic year for which assistance is requested and Illinois is his or her true, fixed and permanent home.

At least one of my parents is undocumented and I (student) was born in the United States. Am I eligible for state and federal financial aid?

Your parents' immigration status is not an eligibility requirement. What matters in determining student eligibility for state and federal financial aid programs is the status of a student NOT that of a parent. For purposes of completing the Free Application for Federal Students Aid (FAFSA), if your parent(s) does not have a Social Security Number, you must enter 000-00-0000 in the parent section.

Eligibility for federal and state student aid is based on financial need and on several other factors. The financial aid administrator at the college or career school you plan to attend will determine your eligibility.

These are some of the requirements that you must meet to receive state or federal aid:

  • demonstrate financial need (except for certain loans).
  • have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate.
  • be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program.
  • be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen.
  • have a valid Social Security Number.
  • register with the Selective Service if required.
  • maintain satisfactory academic progress once in school.
  • certify that you are not in default on a federal student loan and do not owe money on a federal student grant.
  • certify that you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes.


Disclosure of Undocumented Status: How to Talk About Immigration Status

Think carefully about how to talk about immigration status on college and scholarship applications.
Never, ever misrepresent or lie about immigration status, social security numbers, etc…

Source: Chan, Beliza (2011). Financial Aid Guide for College-Bound Undocumented Students. Educators for Fair Consideration, 16.

Scholarships Offered by Colleges and Universities

Each college implements its own scholarship application procedures. If you are presented with a question that does not apply to you, do one of two things:

  • seek guidance from the college (let them tell you how they prefer that you answer the question); or
  • leave the appropriate section blank and contact the financial aid advisor at the college for further advice.

Staff at the college can then work with you on an individual basis and provide additional guidance to assist in the processing of your scholarship application.

Private Scholarships Offered by Businesses, Service Agencies or Philanthropic Organizations

Several businesses and philanthropic organizations provide scholarships to undocumented students. A variety of scholarship directories are available; they are included here for your convenience. Contact each scholarship provider for applications and details about requirements and deadlines.

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Create lasting support networks that can offer ongoing mentoring and advice.



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Resources for Students & Educators

College Board

DREAM Activist

Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC)


Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

Pew Hispanic Center

Public Counsel

USC Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis

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